Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Running On Fumes: Tale of a Korean Music Festival

Claiming the last weekend of the rain season, the Pentaport Rock Festival (gracing ground in Incheon, South Korea), tackles true festival conditions (hurricane-esque). Yet, the end of July timing is by no choice of festival organizers, rather it is obligatory, to accompany the Fuji Rock Festival in Japan. With a considerably small foreign music market compared to neighbouring J-pan, Pentaport faces the reality of selectively attempting to beckon artists solely from the pool clamouring to Fuji. Freshly concluding its third edition, the 3 day festival continues to fly on the fuselage of this bigger international carrier. With Korea generally passed over by touring artists and unable to break solo from the notoriety of the south, all energy and resources are spent enticing bands it's worth another day in Asia to make the trek. Having also attended the festivals inaugural showing, I attest the most frequent statement from lead vocalists is unveiling this as their debut performance in South Korea. This is commonly followed by a sentiment expressing genuine shock at the locals enthusiasm and reception. Clearly, someone's slacking in PR, no one knows this market is worth exploiting.

With prerequisites in order: camping, movie theater, guitar hero, beach area, all night dance tent, corporate sponsorships, foot massages, the event carries a miniature nostalgia of the famed fests known earth wide. Yet an off kilter observation saw the presence of pot as abundant as finding beer at a corner store in Ontario: nonexistent. Also, since the festival's conception there has been a major decline in the foreign food department. Further against the tide, a major tail-off is the lack of a decent backdrop (to the left a broken down amusement park, while the right holds a run-down soccer field and a Daewoo Motors parking field). With Seoul the size it is, attendees are left to scratch their greasy strands at why the surroundings aren't easier on the eyes.

In flexing their technological biceps whilst simultaneously spotlighting an overly obvious yearning for acclaim, this year the festival debuted a questionable innovation: money bracelets. The concept seemed unnecessary and proved the same. Requiring all to hit up targeted booths where figures forwarded to chips on our wristbands via an Ipod looking reader (which vendors also required), it seemed to mirror paper beer tickets. Furthering the hassle, the bracelet had to be returned to retrieve unspent cash, who never met a beat-the-crowd race they didn't enjoy.
Mind you, there were advancements where others should take note, including the camping service offering tent rentals at $10 for the weekend, abundant Internet resources (genius PR move, as goers no doubt rave on about their location), constant shuttles (to subway connecting Seoul), and almost unnoticeable set breaks, with scheduled times strictly adhered to.

The said schedule spilled the names of 68 artists of which three quarters were local, a handful British (this country is in awe of Brit Rock), a few Australian and Japanese, and one American.
In complimenting a previous rant, this years lineup included wash-ups: 'The Vines' and 'Travis' (laughably headlining). Also, while indications promised more, lousy Japanese act 'Ellegarden', had to be moved up to Friday nights headliner last minute. I won't hide the sets were all well received (Koreans are quite generous in nature), but I question whether it's a result of little exposure to alternative options.
While I applaud taking a chance on 'The Gossip', 'The Go! Team', 'Hard-Fi' and 'The Music', one cannot overlook what escaped from their grasps: 'Bloc Party','Spoon', 'The Futureheads', 'Asian Dub Foundation', 'Lee 'Scratch' Perry', 'My Bloody Valentine', 'Primal Scream', 'Stephen Malkmus'.
Negativity aside, 'The Gossip's' Beth Ditto stole the weekend, bringing one hour of unfathomable energy, and the packed tent replied having Ditto gushing "this is the best show ever". Not equaling the feat, 'Kasabian' at the polar opposite of the bar, came off stale, an indistinguishable Interpol type. 'Feeder' brought up high school feelings, 'The Go! Team' were cheerleaders for that high schools pep rally, 'The Music' had only light dancing shoes, while 'Underworld' was a yawner with the exact same show witnessed at an outdoor gig seven years ago. Many of the Korean bands screamed punk rock, other local acts proved soft and cliche, but a gem was uncovered in the Sogyumo Acacia Band.

Overall, one couldn't deny a good time, but in the grand scheme, still in early life the festivals already reached a flat line.
Seemingly, the logistics aren't great for drawing a band to the other side of the world for no promised return and a guaranteed high cost. And unfortunately, there is no pairing up with Japan's bigger, better 'Summer Sonic' festival as it already occupies each bands entire weekend with stops in both Tokyo and Osaka.
But, if Pentaport is to become renowned, take that back, even a blimp on the radar, it won't be at the teeth of a food bracelet. Rather, it's via distinguishing itself, stop booking the pale guaranteed success and take a risk on something more rewarding.

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